Will New Jersey's reopening be put on pause?

When Gov. Phil Murphy holds his COVID-19 briefing this afternoon at 1PM, we should get a better idea if plans to reopen New Jersey will proceed. Murphy has said he will lift most of the remaining restrictions on May 19. However, New Jersey's rate of transmission (r/t) has risen back above 1, indicating the outbreak is again expanding.

The r/t has more than quadrupled in a week, from .27 to 1.07. However, the spot positivity rate remains relatively low at 3.55%. The two times Murphy halted or paused reopening plans over the last year, the spot positivity rate had spiked above 8% and hospitalizations were surging. Hospitalizations have remained around 1,100 statewide.

A growing factor in Murphy's decision to keep or ease restrictions is this fall's election. Murphy is seeking a second term. With the majority of New Jersey residents now saying it is time to get things back to normal, Murphy may be reluctant to extend restrictions that have devastated the state's economy and plunged millions into unemployment. Murphy said last week he "doesn't pay attention to polls" but the governor is clearly moving into reelection mode.

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Murphy is launching a series of website and television ads that seek to promote his leadership through the COVID crisis. It's the first TV ad Murphy has produced for the campaign. Wearing a mask, Murphy proclaims no other state has been tested by the crisis like New Jersey. He boasts that "no other state has our grit and our heart, and no other state has our future."

Taxpayers are footing part of the $5 million dollar price tag of the ad campaign. Unlike four years ago when Murphy largely self funded his campaign, he is taking public matching funds for this campaign.

In 2017, Murphy spent over $22 million of his his own fortune to win the democratic primary. This year, he has focused on raising money instead of tapping into his personal wealth. He has qualified for $4.6 million in matching funds, and will use $4.1 million to fund the new ad campaign.

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